Chaos and Splendor – The Bear Mountain Hike

The day we hiked Bear Mountain was among the most memorable we experienced while in Sedona, Arizona. Our story starts with a near disaster and ends with a feeling of inspiration and awe.

After a few days of visiting the area, we felt like we had seen the most popular and infamous landmarks. We decided to look for a hike that was less traveled and offered stunning vistas. Bear Mountain was not the only trail that met these criteria but it was the most recommended option from the locals we talked to.

This hike is not for everyone. It is a 5-mile round trip hike (out-and-back) with a 1,900-elevation gain. We knew the steep path to the top would be strenuous and would take several hours to complete. It was important to have plenty of water and some food with us.

We prepared our packs accordingly and also opted to carry bear spray with us as a precaution.

After an initial flat section, the Bear Mountain trail began to climb as we entered Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. Hiking through landscapes that varied from scrub lands to slickrock and rocky terrains, Gail and I realized we had dressed too warm for the day. We agreed to stop so we could take off a layer of clothing.

Little did we know at the time this decision would be a near disaster for us.

The Bear Spray Debacle

Bear Spray is a can of red pepper spray that can be used as a defensive tool if a person is confronted with a bear or other wild animal. The can of spray has a holder that fits over a belt loop for easy access. However, I don’t like carrying things on my belt loop so I stuffed it in a side pocket of my backpack.

When we purchased the can of spray, there was a clip on the trigger. When installed properly, the clip keeps the trigger from being accidentally deployed. What we did not notice when we started the hike was the safety clip was missing on our can of spray. Apparently, it had fallen off somewhere unintentionally and we had not noticed.

I had two shirts on and I needed to take off my long sleeve layer. Gail had a layer to peel off also and she was about 20 feet in front of me. As I took off my backpack and slung it around my body to my frontside, the pack hit my leg.

When this happened, I heard a short “pssst” sound.

The spray accidently shot in the direction of where Gail was standing. She began screaming and coughing. The spray had found her and she was having a terrible reaction to it. She had breathed in some of the pepper spray. Worse yet, the pepper had also gotten into her eyes. She was coughing, had a running nose and could barely see.

She was in pain and miserable.

The Recovery

For several minutes, I watched Gail struggle not really knowing how to help. She was unhappy with me for being the cause of the incident and clearly needed her space to deal with the situation. As I stood there, all I could do was apologize. I felt terrible and wondered how best to help her. Thinking the hike was over, I began thinking about how best to help her walk back to the van.

Suddenly she said, “Okay, let’s keep going. I think I’ll be fine.”

I challenged her decision and told her it was fine if we needed to go back to the van and regroup, but she wanted to keep climbing.

For about a mile, she carefully climbed Bear Mountain with one eye shut and a runny nose as she fought through the discomfort. Eventually, she recovered and regained her strength.

She is one tough and determined lady.

Recovered from the bear spray incident, Gail led the way to the top.

The Climb to the Mountain Top

Once the rocky trail started to steepen, it rarely offered us flat sections for cruising. The path seemingly pointed straight up the entire way. Steep climbs like these are my favorite type of hikes. For some reason, I enjoy the challenge of an unforgiving grade.

Generally, my legs will settle into a pace that feels perfectly suited for my body. I sometimes feel like a machine when I climb and I like that feeling. Most often, my paced is faster than Gail’s on these steeper hikes – but not on this day.

For whatever reason, she was the machine and her pace was relentless. I could not keep up with her. She was not going to let a little bear spray hold her back.

Thankfully for me, the views along the way were spectacular.

Whenever I needed a breath, I would yell out, “Hey honey, look at that! Let’s stop and take a picture!”

Fortunately for me, she was agreeable to pause for a pose each time I asked.

Gail stopped here to record out of breath Steve
If there was ever a great landscape backdrop for a portrait, this one is hard to beat.

The final half mile was very strenuous. Gail was in the lead once again and we could both see the end of the trail.

The closer we got to the finish, I anticipated standing on the top of the mountain and envisioning the 360-degree views we usually get when we arrive on a summit.

As it turned out, the summit on Bear Mountain is covered in dense vegetation. It’s actually impossible to stand on top of this mountain peak and see in all directions without walking the parameter. It’s the only way to get views from all directions, which is what we did.

The Hike Back Down Bear Mountain

Often, my favorite pictures of our hikes are on the way down a mountain. I’m not sure why, but we are more relaxed on the return of an out-and-back hike and our perspectives of the landscapes change too. On the way up, our backs are to the valley and our eyes are on the ground or looking up. We have to remind ourselves to look backwards at the views.

On the hike down a mountain, the views of a mountain range and the valleys are right in front of us the whole way. I also enjoy looking at places we have been and the trail we walked earlier.

When we arrived at the parking lot where our van Alice was parked, we reflected on our day. We had learned a new lesson and felt fortunate the bear spray incident was not worse.

All in all, we had a great day and highly recommend this hike to the readers of this blog!


The Bear Mountain Trail is less busy than many of the hikes in the Sedona area. If you are looking for a fun yet challenging hike with amazing views of the Red Rock Canyon, this one is hard to beat.

This post is our third story of a series about our week in Sedona area. You can see them all here.

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5 thoughts on “Chaos and Splendor – The Bear Mountain Hike

  1. Wow- that looks like an epic hike!! We also carry our bear spray in the side pocket of a backpack vs on a belt loop and I never imagined it could accidentally go off! I’m glad she is ok and that you were still able to enjoy the amazing views on the hike. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Someone was watching over us. I assume because the blast was so short and it was windy the incident was not as bad as it could have been. It was a teaching moment for us.

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